The Comprehensive Guide to American Express Membership Reward Points
American Express Membership Rewards (MR) points are some of the most valuable points you can earn at the moment. With the number of available Amex cards on the market and amount of options there are to redeem MR points, you can argue American Express is at the top of the points game to begin 2019.
The intent of this guide is to provide an in-depth look at MR points and act as a reference point when earning and redeeming MR points using American Express credit cards. Make sure you read this guide in its entirety before redeeming MR points to ensure you are getting the most value possible out of your points and maximizing your free flights and hotel rooms.
How To Earn Membership Rewards Points
In order to start earning Membership Rewards points, of course you need an American Express credit card. Amex offers a large number of cards, but not all of them earn Membership Rewards points. Co-branded cards, like the Amex Hilton and Amex Delta cards earn Hilton Honors and Delta Skymiles respectively. Some of the most popular Amex cards that earn MR points include:
The Platinum Card from American Express & The Business Platinum Card from American Express
American Express Gold Card & Business American Express Gold Card
Amex EveryDay Preferred Credit Card
Amex EveryDay Credit Card
Each of these cards are unique in their own ways and offer bonus categories that increase the amount of MR points you can earn on one purchase. For example, the Platinum card offers 5x points on travel when booking directly with airlines or with American Express Travel, while the Gold card earns 4x points at US restaurants and supermarkets. Check out my review of the Platinum card and Gold card (coming soon) for a more in-depth look at my two favorite American Express cards.
How to Redeem Membership Rewards Points
Now that you know which cards earn MR points, it is time to cover how to redeem those points. There are a number of different options, with some significantly better ways to redeem than others.
Transfer MR points to Travel Partners
This is the recommended way to use your points 99% of the time. In order to get the most value out of your MR points as possible, transferring points to travel partners almost always is the way to go. American Express has arguably the best selection of travel partners of any credit card company, and we will take a look at the full list of travel partners later in this guide
Booking Travel with American Express Travel Portal and Expedia
When booking flights and hotels through the Amex portal or Expedia, you will have the option to use MR points. At most you will typically cash out MR points at a value of $.01 which is really not a great deal. There are better options to spend your MR points on.
Online Shopping & Entertainment
When shopping online through the American Express shopping portal, you will have the option to use MR points to pay for whatever you are buying. I actually bought a Vitamix blender (before I knew what I was doing when it came to travel hacking) off of Amazon using MR points. I didn’t get great value from my MR points, only about .5 cents per point, but at least I saved a few hundred bucks. You can also redeem points with Ticketmaster for concerts or sporting events. Half a cent per point to .7 cents/point is about the value you can expect when using MR points for online shopping and entertainment. Again, this is not the ideal way to use your MR points.
On the American Express website, you have the option to buy gift cards using MR points. Amex offers a wide range of gift card options including iTunes, Uber, Starbucks, and more. This could come in handy during the holiday season when buying gifts for friends and family. You can expect to redeem MR points at a rate of .5-1 cent per point for this option.
You can donate points to charity at a value of .7 cents per point on the American Express website. This is a nice and simple way to give back and put your points to good use if you are feeling generous.
Your Credit Card Charges
Finally, you can actually use points on your statement charges via the American Express website at a rate of .6 cents per point. You are not getting the most value possible if you choose this route, but its a nice feature to have in case your ever in a pinch and need to use points to pay off your credit card bill.
AMEX Travel Partners
As i mentioned earlier, by far the best way to redeem MR points are by transferring them to travel partners. You can get a value of up to 2-4 cents/point if you use the right travel partner and find a really great award deal. Lets take a look at all of the travel partners American Express is currently working with:
Aeromexico (1 MR point:1.6 Aeromexico Premier point)
Air Canada (1:1)
Air France KLM (1:1)
All Nippon Airways (1:1)
cathay Pacific- Asia Miles (1:1)
British Airways 250:200
Delta Airlines 1:1
El Al Israel Airlines (1,000:20)
Ethiad Airways (1:1)
Hawaiian Airlines (1:1)
Iberia Plus (250:200)
JetBlue Airways (250:200)
Singapore Airlines (1:1)
Virgin American (200:100)
Virgin Atlantic Airways (1:1)
Choice Privileges Rewards (1:1)
Hilton Honors (1:1.5)
That is a nice list of travel partners. American Express currently has the most travel partners in their arsenal of any bank/credit card company, which is great for us consumers! Now that you which travel partners Amex has, lets take at a look at which partners you should transfer points to and which ones you should avoid.
One of the best ways to use your MR points is by transferring them to Singapore Airlines. This means your MR points can be used on not only Singapore Airlines award flights, one of the best airlines in the world, but also other airlines such as Air Canada, Eva Air, Swiss Air, and more. This is one creative way to use MR points on United flights. United is not a direct travel partner of Amex, but can reward flights can be booked using MR points through Singapore Airlines. You can find the full list of Star Alliance member airlines here. Star Alliance offers some great value on international flights using points to save you hundreds if not thousands of dollars. T
Transferring MR points to British Airways for shorter domestic flights is also a great way to spend MR points. British Airways uses a distance-based awards chart, meaning the amount of points needed to book an award flight depends on the distance traveled. BA offers some great deals on shorter flights, but I would avoid booking flights from the US to Europe on BA because of the high fuel surcharges you will have to pay, even if you booked the flight using points.
If you do want to get to Europe from the US using MR points, I would suggest transferring points to Ethiad. American Airlines is a partner airlines of Ethiad, meaning once you transfer MR points to Ethiad, you can use those points to book an American Airlines flight from the US to Europe, for a very reasonable amount of points I might add.
Those are just a few of the best options to choose when transferring MR points to travel partners. Now let’s take a look at some of the worst redemptions you can make with MR points.
Although the ratio of MR points to Hilton Honors points might seem like a good deal (1:1.5), it really is not. Hilton Honors points are some of the lowest valued loyalty points of any program out there. Unless you get some kind of bonus redemption deal that is offered occasionally, its best to stay away from transferring MR points to Hilton. If you really want to earn Hilton Honors points, I suggest signing up for the Hilton Honors Aspire card. It’s one of the best hotel credit cards on the market today. Check out the review here (coming soon) .
There is essentially no situation where transferring MR points to Aeromexico Premier Points makes sense. Although the ratio seems intriguing (1:1.6), the award flights offer by Aeromexico simply are not good deals. If you really want to fly to Mexico using points, check out Air France Flying Blue for much more reasonable award flight options.
Just stay away from transferring MR points to El Al Israel. The ratio (1,000:20) is not a good redemption value at all, considering a flight from New York to Tel Aviv will cost around 1,600 Matmid points. That is equivalent to 80,000 MR points. You can find much better deals with other Amex travel partners.
Excise Fees When Transferring MR Points
One important thing to watch out for is the Amex excise fees when transferring MR points. This fee only occurs when you transfer MR points to US frequent flyer programs such as Delta. You will be charged .06 cent fee per point.
Hopefully you noticed that I did not recommend transferring MR points to a US frequent flyer program in the “Good Redemptions” section, partially because of this frustrating fee. It is best to transfer points to a foreign program to avoid being charged this fee. It is not the end of the world if you end up transferring MR points and pay this fee, but it should be avoided if possible.
As you can see, there is a ton of flexibility when it comes to earning and redeeming American Express Membership Rewards points. If you use the points strategically, you can find some valuable sweet spots. In most situations, transferring MR points to travel partners is your best bet.
Do you have any American Express credit cards? Let me know down below which cards you have and what card is your favorite!
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